Higher Level Classes Can Harm Students


Graphic By William Gangnath

In response to recent hazing allegations and then charges for five JV football players at Damascus, all athletic directors held a meeting with fall athletes that reviewed MCPS hazing policies.

Editorial Board

The constant and overwhelming push for students to enroll in higher level classes continues to be more harmful than helpful to students’ mental, physical and social health. To stop deteriorating the health of high school students, the adults–parents, counselors, program advisors and teachers, should make sure students can handle their workload and are not being coerced into a higher level program that they may not be able to succeed in.

Success in arduous programs has many moving parts, all of which must align for the student to not only succeed in the program but also be a happy person.  Students are expected to get an A in the class and not only pass the respective exam, but also achieve a high enough score to receive college credit. While a student may achieve excellent test scores and grades, in more severe cases, the student may also develop depression, anxiety or another mental illness due to the chronic stress that accompanies too many difficult classes.

“Honestly, I’ve had more students this year hospitalized for anxiety, depression, and other mental-health issues than ever,” National Education Association Kathy Reamy told NEA in a March 28, 2018 article.

Is a GPA or exam score really worth the hours of work and sacrifice of sleep and other parts of a teenager’s life if that success comes with an unhealthy mental state which can last for years?

The push for higher level programs to be a part of every high schooler’s life makes students prioritize their school life over their happiness.

“The fact is, these students are stuck in a situation that most adults, frankly, would avoid,” psychology expert and educator Christopher Taibbi said.  “They are denying themselves something that brings them genuine, wholesome joy in exchange for drudgery.”

When RHS students reach the second semester of their sophomore year, they are almost instantly bombarded with information on the higher level programs the school has to offer: Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB).  It often seems like they are forced to pick a path which they will follow for the rest of their high school career.

Encouragement to take multiple higher level classes or to fully enroll in a college level program is more than acceptable when help is provided. This is why Social Studies team leader Michelle Pettit and AP U.S. History teacher Jillian Kennedy created the AP Launch program to assist students who are new to the AP program.

The AP launch program provides an “opportunity for first time test takeoffs to access valuable materials, receive help in a small group setting and get tips and feedback from RHS AP teachers,” Pettit said.  “It’s all about what we do to support students, because if there is no support, we are setting them up to fail.”

Without the support of programs like the one created by Pettit and Kennedy, students are prone to endure chronic stress. When stress is ignored on an everyday basis and not properly dealt with, it turns into something much more severe.  Chronic stressful life situations, such as the pressures accompanying high level programs, can increase the risk of developing depression, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

Higher level program advisers also recognize the push for students to choose plenty of vigorous courses.

“We want students to use all opportunities [RHS] has.  To some extent, it’s assumed they do,” IB Coordinator Laurie Ainsworth said.

Some students believe the push of higher level programs is not only justified but vital to all students high school experience.

“The programs at RHS are great experiences because they teach you how to time manage and how to write properly,” senior IB student Elena Coording said. “I think it’s important that all high schoolers learn these things before getting to college.”

The College Board claims that students will “see the benefits of taking an AP class right away” and “will face new challenges and learn new skills in the subjects they care about.” This implies students have access to classes that will further their education in a specialized subject of choice. While this is ideal, it is not always realistic. The College Board fails to see that many students do not care about every higher level subject they are taking but are rather taking what is available to them or an abundance of them to meet school standards.

Parents and adults in the building clearly care about students’ success and health.  But at what point is the intentional push to challenge everyone actually becoming an accidental push of some students over the edge?